India should be added to the State’s list of countries for which mandatory hotel quarantine is necessary, according to a professor of immunovirology.
On Monday evening, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) confirmed that three cases of the Indian variant of Covid-19 had been identified in Ireland in the last couple of days, with at least two of the cases associated with travel.
UCC professor Liam Fanning told Newstalk Breakfast that the mandatory hotel quarantine system was proving effective in picking up cases and would be helpful in keeping variants out of the country.
He was also optimistic that the vaccine programme would offer protection from the new Indian variant which has been deemed “of interest”.
Being vaccinated meant that a person was “not starting from zero” in terms of immunity, he added.
Viruses change all the time, he explained, which was why the flu vaccine was changed every year. Being vaccinated offered a level of protection and immunity, he said.
“Get the vaccines into our arms so we can be better protected as a nation,” he urged.
Gerald Barry, an assistant professor of virology at UCD, later told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the variant was likely to become one “of concern” rather than interest as more data emerged.
The UK was being relied upon for data internationally as it was conducting more in-depth sequencing and had identified four different changes in the spike protein in the Indian variant, which was a collection of mutations that had not been seen before, he said.
Prof Barry said that the recent surge in cases of Covid-19 in India was cause for concern as sequencing in that country was not good, and reporting of case numbers was inaccurate with underreporting.
We need to keep using the same tactics to keep case numbers down
That was going to drive the Indian variant, which he predicted would become as concerning as the Brazilian and South African variants.
It was inevitable that variants were going to emerge, but it was important that the public not “freak out” every time they heard this as “they are going to hear of lots [of variants].”
While there was concern that new variants could be more easily transmitted and could be vaccine resistant, the best way to stop transmission was to keep case numbers as low as possible, he said.
The virus changed itself every time it replicated, so the more people were vaccinated the less likely the variant was to change and get stronger. This meant it was important to roll out the vaccine programme as quickly as possible, he said.
“We need to keep using the same tactics to keep case numbers down, not just in Ireland, but across the world.”